This past weekend was the third annual Alberta Open Farm Days, two days filled with opportunities for the public to experience various farm lives and understand where their food comes from. With over 70 participating farmers and ranchers across Alberta opening their doors (an increase of more than 10 hosts from 2014), developing a game plan was a challenge for many I’m sure. In addition to farm tours and demonstrations, Saturday was a host to a multitude of multi-course farm-to-table dinners throughout the province, most of which were all reasonably priced. Similar to previous years, the Sunday was reserved more so for farm tours, demonstrations, and samplings, all of which had free admission!
August crept up on me quite suddenly and I feel like there’s a whole lot going on. Edmonton is called the Festival City for good reason after all! I found Alberta Open Farm Days tucked away in the back of my mind and by the time the weekend popped up, I was rushed for plans! Of note, this year’s Alberta Open Farm Days did receive a bit more press than last year’s and a helpful “Plan Your Route” link on the website would have made it incredibly easy to map out the farms if I had done so earlier! Northlands also hosted their own tours of the urban farm, offering food demonstrations and a “From The Farm” long table dinner.
Seeing that life was getting in the way, I was unable to participate in any of the culinary experiences featured this year. Here’s to planning in advance in 2016 as tickets need to be purchased for the events. One of the most popular dinners (in Northern Alberta) every year is RGE RD’s Field to Fork Long Table Dinner at Prairie Gardens. Having attended a RGE RD farm-to-table dinner before, this event would have guaranteed to be a hit. What caught my eye this year was the Gourmet Long Table Dinner at a Secret Location. A bus tour would transport you to four farms (Lower Shannon Farms, Hi-Gain Ranching, The Cheesiry, and Harvard Farms), providing a look at various types of farms and producers. Following the tour and at a secret location, ticket holders would finish off with a gourmet meal featuring produce from local farms. At $100 per person, I’m not quite sure if it can be any more of value! Hopefully next year there will be something similar!Thankfully, my Sunday afternoon was freed up and I was able to squeeze in two host farms: Reclaim Urban Farm and Horse Hill Berry Farm. As both were in Edmonton city limits, I think this was easily the best picks for city dwellers who wanted to do Alberta Open Farm Days last minute. As to not ruin any upcoming events next year, here’s a brief recap of my experiences!
Reclaim Urban FarmI can’t even begin to tell you what I learned about urban agriculture from Ryan Mason and Cathryn Sprague, co-owners (or co-farmers as they’d like to call it) of Reclaim Urban Farm. The one hour tour, followed by what was described as a “light lunch” was a must-do for Alberta Open Farm Days go-ers! You might have seen the duo at the weekly outdoor City Market on 104 Street or perhaps taken their Grow Microgreens course at Get Cooking, or bumped into them at various food events — all of which were my case. Yet somehow after all those encounters, I had never visited their urban lots!
In short, Reclaim Urban Farm does what the name says: they reclaim lots in Edmonton’s urban core that are underutilized and transform them in living, growing produce to sell to restaurants, consumers at the farmer’s markets, and CSA shares. The lots are borrowed or leased short term, and are owned by a variety of Edmontonians, from the elderly who might have once been an avid gardener but unable to upkeep their garden, to young families that just don’t have the time to manage one but are interested in local, sustainable food. One of their biggest lots and biggest supporter is in collaboration with St. John’s Institute on Whyte Avenue and 110 Street, which is where our tour began.
The one hour tour took us through absolutely everything: how Ryan and Cathryn met at the University of Alberta while completing their Masters program and their respective backgrounds in agriculture; how SPIN (Small Plot Intensive) farming became their primary focus for their nearly one acre “centralized” collective of lots ranging from the St. John’s Institute lot through the Garneau and Whyte Avenue area all the way to King Edward Park in Bonnie Doon; a single-file tour (felt like I was back in elementary for a field trip!) of their largest lot and description of everything they were growing; the challenges of urban farming (pests and irrigation, but surprisingly not theft!).
You had questions? They answered it. In all honesty, everything that I learned about Reclaim Urban Farm deserves it’s own post (isn’t it convenient that I very recently started a Market Features series this year?). Or better yet, you can take the tour (for free!) during next year’s Alberta Open Farm Days!
Horse Hill Berry FarmAbsolutely stuffed from the lunch, I wasn’t quite sure how I managed to go raspberry picking at Horse Hill Berry Farm! Only a short drive out of northeast Edmonton, the raspberry U-pick is actually open daily throughout late July to end of August. The host farm was more of a hands-on experience with no official tours offered. Owners Dave and Jackie Wilson weren’t available when I visited but a pamphlet and our greeter Kathy gave me all the information I needed!
The Horse Hill farm has been in Jackie Wilson’s family since 1880s and in 2008, they began with 4000 raspberry plants. Fast track two years later and Horse Hill Berry Farm opened to the public for U-pick raspberries. For the price of $ 4.50/lb, visitors were able to pick from six varieties of raspberries on the ten acres of farmland. I didn’t even know there were that many kinds of raspberries! I asked Kathy which ones were what we’d normally find in stores, to which she responded, “None of them!” The raspberry varieties found at Horse Hill Berry Farm are all of Canadian origins: the Red Bounty and Mammoth (from Saskatchewan), the K-81-6 and Nova (from Nova Scotia), and Killarney and Boyne (from Manitoba).
A map was provided on the back of the pamphlet indicating which rows were of which variety. Depending on what you were planning to do with your raspberries (fresh eating, freezing, or canning), different species were recommended, much like apples! Other characteristics included growing season, size, colour, and firmness. It was so interesting to try each of the berries and notice the differences!
What I thought would be a quick pick turned into an hour of raspberry bliss! Horse Hill Berry Farm is the perfect host farm for families with young children for a nice short outing! As Alberta Open Farms is usually on the third weekend of August, the raspberries were a little past their peak season but it was fun poking around and finding nice juicy berries for the picking! And if you didn’t get enough raspberries, samples of raspberry jam, raspberry lemonade and beautiful slices of raspberry pie were also available. So much fun!Horse Hill Berry Farm
Absolutely loved last weekend’s Alberta Open Farm Days! As much as I love plain ol’ eating, learning about where the food comes from and the producers and farms behind it is equally, if not more rewarding! I’ve already penciled in next year’s event (I’m predicting third weekend of August again). Will definitely be utilizing the “Plan Your Route” tool and strive for the host farms outside of the Edmonton area. Perhaps 2016 will be a sheep year for me, The Cheesiry and Tangle Ridge Farm are on my to-visit list! Make sure to follow Alberta Open Farm Days on Twitter or Facebook for next year’s event!
What do you think? Did you get to visit a host farm this year and how was your experience? If you didn’t get a chance to visit a host farm or do a culinary experience, what are you looking forward to next year? Let me know in the comments below!Alberta Open Farm Days
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Alberta Open Farm Days. Host farm selections were of my own choosing and all associated donations and additional costs were made by myself. All opinions are of my own.